A South Florida jury returned a split verdict in a civil lawsuit filed against McDonald’s and one of its franchisees that alleged “dangerously hot” chicken nuggets from a Happy Meal burned a toddler, according to CNN affiliate WPLG.
The jury on Thursday found that McDonald’s and franchise owner Upchurch Foods liable for failing to properly warn or provide reasonable instructions on the possible harm from the hot McNuggets dispensed at a Tamarac, Florida, drive-thru, the news station reported. However, only Upchurch Foods was found to be negligent. Jurors also found there was no inherent defect in putting McNuggets on the market and no breach of implied warranty.
The suit was filed in 2019 against McDonald’s and Upchurch Foods. The Fort Lauderdale jury said both were at some fault for the burns sustained by Philana Holmes and Humberto Caraballo Estevez’s daughter when the hot nuggets fell on to her lap, WPLG reported.
The complaint said Holmes bought and paid for the Happy Meal from the drive-thru and then drove away. The nugget fell and became lodged between her 4-year-old daughter’s leg and car seat, the law firm representing the plaintiffs said.
“The Chicken McNuggets inside of that Happy Meal were unreasonably and dangerously hot (in terms of temperature),” and caused her “skin and flesh around her thighs to burn,” the complaint alleged, leaving her “disfigured and scarred.”
The complaint said the franchise should have known the nuggets were “unfit for human handling,” had a duty not to sell them, and it should have adequately trained and supervised its employees.
The law firm representing the plaintiff, Fischer Redavid, said in a blog post that the case will go to a second trial to “determine the damages owed to our client.”
The case echoes the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit of the ’90s, in which a woman spilled coffee on her lap and suffered third-degree burns. A jury agreed with her contention that the coffee was unreasonably hot. Fischer Redavid noted that the plaintiff in that case was initially awarded nearly $3 million, but she settled for less after an appeal.
“This is not the infamous Hot Coffee case; this is Olivia’s case,” the law firm said in a statement to WPLG. “She’s an adorable, innocent child who was severely burned through no fault of her own.”
In a statement, McDonald’s called it an “unfortunate incident” but that they “respectfully disagree with the verdict.” McDonald’s defense said it had no control over the injuries and damages.
“Our sympathies go out to this family for what occurred in this unfortunate incident, as we hold customer safety as one of our highest priorities,” local McDonald’s owner and operator, Brent Upchurch, said in a statement. “That’s why our restaurant follows strict rules in accordance with food safety best practices when it comes to cooking and serving our menu items, including Chicken McNuggets.”
Upchurch said the Tamarac location “did indeed follow” safety protocols.
Fischer Redavid’s statement said the verdict “reflected the truth, the facts, and the law.”
“We don’t view this as a ‘split verdict.’ Two defendants went to trial, denying liability. A jury found both liable.”
- CNN’s Danielle Wiener-Bronner contributed to this report